21 March 2005

Danny Yee's Wombats

Danny Yee reviews The Wombat: Common Wombats in Australia, by Barbara Triggs (UNSW Press, 1996).
Anyone who has spent much time in the bush in south-eastern Australia will have encountered the signs of the common wombat Vombatus ursinus: the entrances to their burrows are obvious and their cubical scats are the most distinctive of any Australian mammal. Being nocturnal, however, wombats are rarely seen -- most commonly crossing roads at night, or as road-kill -- and have not been as well studied as Australia's other iconic mammals. In The Wombat Barbara Triggs gives an entertaining and informative presentation of what is known about them.

She begins with an overview of wombat evolution and taxonomy and distribution. There are two rarer species of hairy-nosed wombats, found in Queensland and South Australia, as well as the common wombat covered here, which is found in south-eastern Australia and Tasmania. Other related species are now extinct; the closest living relative of the wombat is the koala....

There are some fascinating and sometimes surprising details in here. One question prompted by scats found high on ridges is how wombats can survive so far from water.
"Grassy creek and river banks are popular feeding areas at all times, but a wombat rarely drinks from the stream or any other free water, except when all the grass has yellowed and lost most of its moisture. ... Adult wombats rarely urinate."
Wombats are, however, efficient swimmers over short distances.
Well, that answers at least three questions I've never asked myself.

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